A Plea for True Respect for Arabs and Muslims by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

February 17, 2011

Rav Yosef, my good friend and a rabbi I respect deeply, misunderstands my motivation in holding off on a prayer for Egypt.  I certainly am frustrated with the Obama administration’s handling of the Middle East.  However, my main point is that we need to stop pandering and patronizing the Arabs and Muslims throughout the world, and actually show some respect to them.  They can face the challenges of their past just as well as Jews and Christians can: the anti-Semitic elements of their religion, which need to be re-understood just as Judaism and Christianity evolved in their understanding of the “other”; the discriminatory treatment of the Jews in Arab and Muslim lands throughout  history; the abominable attitude of the Arab leadership, trade unions and professional organizations toward the State of Israel – even in Jordan and Egypt; the leaders and mobs who pressured Great Britain not to allow Jews to enter Palestine when faced with murder and destruction in Europe – and even after the Holocaust before the rise of the State of Israel.  I respect the Arabs and Muslims, and I think they are capable of rising to the challenge of becoming an enlightened people, a part of the developed world.  Yes, they need democracy,  and that means a different attitude towards women – we in the West need to work on that as well – and toward homosexuals and other “others” in their midst.  Yes, I think the Palestinians can advance to the point where selling land to a Jew is not a capital offense, nor is a gay person forced to hide their identity.

People from developed countries throughout the world come to Israel to learn agriculture, science and to share in Israel’s rich culture.  I do expect Arabs to learn from Israel as well.  It is their loss, their sad loss, and certainly the Palestinians loss, that they have spent nearly 63 years fighting Israel instead of teaming up with Israel. The protesters in Tienanmen Square erected a model of the Statue of Liberty; they understood that America stands for freedom and liberty.  In Egypt, protesters put Jewish stars on Mubarak to show how much they hated him – how sad that they did not understand that Israel represents their ticket to freedom, democracy and a thriving, open economy, rather than the evil they need to eternally fight.

No, I am not angry, I am waiting: I am waiting for the Egyptians to rise to the challenge and to be the human beings they can be.  The prophets understood that they can be a great people.  But unless we challenge them to pursue truth, not just populism, and unless we ourselves admit to that truth, we are not respecting them and treating them as our equals.    They are God’s children just like we in the West are God’s children, and I have every expectation that I place on myself and my own religion.

I pray that we stop pandering and patronizing and start respecting our Arab and Muslims brothers in a way that allows them to enter a new era of truth and good.  When that happens, I will be the first to say a Shehechiyanu.  Until then, I pray for us to be strong, and never to compromise or ask others to compromise the values that have given us our freedom and our liberty.

Rabbi Asher Lopatin

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Why Am I Not Excited About the “Revolution” in Egypt? By Rabbi Lopatin

February 15, 2011

Rav Yosef’s prayer about events in Egypt got my juices flowing: There is something that is bothering me about what is going on in Egypt, but even more so about how the media and the Obama administration is handling it.  Please allow me to speak as a Jew and a Zionist:

When President Obama gave his famous Cairo speech, we were bothered that he took out the 4000 year old Zionist dream of the Jewish people, and replaced it with pandering to the Arab world.  That  pandering that directly led us to where we are now: We now have a situation where moderately pro-Western, and barely pro-Israel regimes are under attack – or have been driven out – without any strong, pro-Western, reasonable voices to take their place.  The administration spent two years focusing on Israel’s “settlements” in Jerusalem, and cut funds for democratic voices in Egypt, Iran and elsewhere that could have been ready to help guide these countries into an era of true democracy, of true positive change for the Arab and Muslim world.  No!  The idea was to get kudos from the Arab  world by appearing balanced: In other words, beat up on Israel, and let Arab and Muslim dictatorships (Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Tunisia, Yemen, etc.) do whatever they wanted with their people, and hope that the Arab and Muslim world sees that America is on their side.

Well, America is still being accused of being the pawns of the Zionists, and, not only that, we are accused of propping up a bunch of corrupt regimes.  And we are nowhere with the Palestinians – who actually came much farther under George Bush, who didn’t make a big deal of Jews living in Jerusalem.  The mobs in Tahrir Square enabled the military to take over – a peaceful coup – and they are celebrating dissolving parliament and their constitution.  Hmm… Maybe they will get lucky and rebuild everything, but it sounds to me like the Egyptian military, not a great fighting machine, now has an even better chance of consolidating their corrupt ownership of the Egyptian private sector and of maintaining even better the power they had under Nassir, Sadat and Mubarak.  That is not democracy.

Who are the democratic elements?  From the religious Right, the Muslim Brotherhood, who want to destroy Israel and destroy the West – including democracy and everything that goes with it.  From the left, the secularist parties also talk about doing away with the peace treaty with Israel.  Where are the voices who will rebuild a moral, ethical and just Egypt?  Nowhere.

So, if we really care about the Egyptian people, and Arab and Muslim people of the world let’s stop pandering:

First, America needs to be balanced: We recognize Damascus as capital of Syria, and Cairo as capital of Egypt: So America needs to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Second: A majority of Jordan is Palestinian.  They need to be given their full civil rights, and Jordan needs to be recognized as a Palestinian state.

Third: The powers in Egypt – including the media – should be ashamed at how cold they kept the peace treaty with Israel.  America needs to let every party in Egypt know that not only do the Americans expect the new government of Egypt to keep all its existing treaties, but for over a billion dollars we expect to see good, warm relations with Israel.  Israel should be the model for Arabs  for a state with a strong military and yet a strong democracy that can allow the army not to take over.  America should be flying Egyptian leaders to Israel to observe how a true democracy works.  And even if no one goes, that is the expectation.  If you want us to admire your courage, if you want us to think that something is happening beyond the demagoguery and lies of Nassir’s populist United Arab Republic, then the Arab world is going to have to shape up.

When I hear something like that coming from the Obama administration, then I’ll write a prayer.

 

Rabbi Asher Lopatin


Rabbi Marc Angel, Firebrand of Modern Orthodox, Comes To Your Shabbat Table, by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

January 3, 2011

Angel for Shabbat, by Rabbi Marc B. Angel

($18 online at Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, www.jewishideas.org )

Reviewed by Rabbi Asher Lopatin

Rabbi Marc Angel has just come out with a unique book entitled “Angel for Shabbat.”   It is a semi-autobiographical, Modern Orthodox manifesto and Bill of Rights, using the back-drop of the parshiot and chagim to illustrate the key points of Rabbi Angel’s thought.  This book is Old World and New Age: it quotes classic Hassidic and Sefardic masters – from Levi Yitzchak of Bardichov to the Kotzker Rebbe to Rav Chaim David Halevi, Chacham Ovadia Yosef and Rabbi Benzion Uziel – and classic secular thinkers such as Dr. Bruno Bettleheim, Eric Fromm, Paul Johnson, and a half-dozen former presidents of the United States.  You just don’t see books written today which cite Rabbi J. H. Hertz who quotes Marcus Jastrow or which spell mitzvos, “mitzvoth”.  The book will bring you back to a different era in Jewish thought, where it was OK to entertain the idea of the world being several billion years old or the idea that superstitions are actually bad and not integral to Judaism.

On the other hand, Rabbi Marc Angel does not hold back on expressing his views on every contemporary flashpoint in Orthodoxy, from the Gedolim, to discrimination against Sefaradim in Emanuel, to Postville and the Rubashkins to parking lots and protests in Jerusalem.  Whether you agree with Rabbi Angel or not, it is fascinating to see how a pulpit rabbi of a 17th century colonial New York congregation can use the language of the Rambam to leap from the text of the parsha to blast charlatans who would espouse an irrational Judaism or teachers who would demand a literal interpretation of Midrashim.  Was Rivka really three when she decided to marry Yitzchak? Can we view Mordechai and Esther as assimilated Jews?  This book will get you off your comfy chair to shout out either “How can Rabbi Angel say this!” or “Lead the way Rabbi Angel!  We are right behind you!”

This is parsha book like no other – in a sense it is a gorgeous and tender polemic, where Rabbi Angel’s father, wife and congregants come into the picture as being part of the story of a former president of the RCA and leading Orthodox rabbi (he is now Emeritus at the Historic Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue) who has only gotten more passionate and self-confident to try to make a difference in the world.  Parsha after parsha, in pithy two-page essays, I found  myself saying, “Don’t hold back Rabbi Angel!  Tell us what you really think!”  Tell us how you think it might be morally dubious to reject Thanksgiving as a Jewish holiday!  This book is a must read because it recreates  a time in Orthodoxy where doing Thanksgiving and reading the Hertz chumash and quoting Harry Truman were all very much part of the “frum” Jewish experience.  But at the same time the ideas in this book, and Rabbi Angel’s uncompromising style, bridges the generation gap and addresses issues that the Modern, Centrist and Chareidi world are struggling with today.  Nostalgia is just the start; this book wants to take you to a world of independent thinking, bold questioning  and strong “inner calm” that will wake you up.  It’s not a book to read just every week – it’s a book to go through in one setting, and then to ponder it again as our Jewish year, and our Torah, unravels before us.  Good luck putting it down!


Reclaiming the Jewish Naqba by Rabbi Lopatin

November 11, 2010

I do not know who Mayor Dieter Salomon of Freiburg Germany is, but he recently made some excellent points – transformative – to help Jews and Israelis define their relationship with history and with the Palestinians.  It involves an exhibit that a pro-Palestinian group wanted Freiburg to sponsor, which the mayor rejected because of its one-sidedness.  But note two powerful points by the mayor: First for the Palestinians – and all Arabs – to take responsibility for their own predicament – that will be the only thing that will pull them out of where they are.  Second, we Jews and Zionists have to start using the term The Other Naqba: the expulsion of 800,000 Jews from Arab lands and their welcome absorption into the new Jewish State of Israel.  Let’s start remembering that many Jews were Palestinians and that we have a Naqba story to tell as loudly as anyone else.

From the Jerusalem Post:

The mayor of Freiburg, Dieter Salomon, pulled the plug on a Palestinian “Nakba” exhibit, which was slated to open on Friday in the local library, because “from the perspective of the city of Freiburg, the presentation is one-sided,” Edith Lamersdorf, the mayor’s spokeswoman, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

“One-sided accusations and friend-foe paradigms do not promote insight into the complicated relationships in the Middle East or contribute to understanding and peaceful development in the region,” the Green Party’s Dieter Salomon said in a statement last week.

“Palestinian Arabs do not appear in the presentation as responsible and active actors in this conflict. There is, for example, no discussion of the anti-Semitically motivated Arab pogroms that took place since the mid-19th century, and especially after 1945, in the Jewish settlement areas in the Arab regions. The other ‘Nakba’ [catastrophe] meant flight and expulsion for hundreds of thousands of Arab Jews, who had to leave their homes and were taken in by Israel,” the mayor said.